I need to preface this course overview by stating that I shot my personal best round while visiting, but I will try not to let that bias my review!
The Preserve is part of the Grand View Lodge located in Brainerd, Minnesota, about 2.5 hours north of Minneapolis. While it is a bit of a drive from Southeastern Wisconsin, it is well worth it to feel completely immersed in the total Northwoods experience as you arrive.
Completed in 1996 by architects Mike Morley and Dan Helbling, the course was ranked #15 in 2020 by Golf Advisor in Minnesota. The Preserve features 2 nines and is a par 72. Playing 6,600 yards from the back tees, it offers varying tee options all the way down to 4,800 yards and can set up to appeal to any length hitter. A recent million-dollar renovation in 2015 reshaped many of the tee boxes, creating the varied lengths and some amazing elevated opening shots throughout.
The Preserve is carved into the Northwoods, winding through mature pine and timber forests to provide a challenging yet picturesque round of golf. While many golfers may be intimidated by the trees, accurate driver or 3-wood shots are not as critical as it may seem. The holes are set up nicely to provide some flexibility if you aren’t the straightest hitter.
The first hole is a reachable par 5, giving you the opportunity to settle into your round and establish a nice rhythm. The first tee has a commanding view of the course and is easily visible from the patio, so make sure to pose after you stripe one down the middle.
The next few holes start to test your game and shot placement off the tee. I found many of the holes set up to be a “drawer’s” delight if you are right-handed, and they played perfectly to my game. Fairly accurate tee shots are needed for a few holes, but you don’t always have to pull out the driver. The overall lengths of the par 4’s were very manageable and greens could be reached with a low iron even if a wood or long iron was played off the tee.
I remember standing on many tee boxes thinking “where do I want to hit this ball?” While there are many shots that I may approach differently playing a second time, we were able to navigate the first few holes fairly easily. That being said, having some local knowledge would help, and we were fortunate to pair up with some locals following the first few holes. They directed our shots on the 5th hole, especially, which sets up as a short dogleg right, and gave us critical layup advice on the 6th, as well.
The finishing holes on the front 9 include a lengthy par 3 and some narrow par 4’s that ultimately take you back towards the clubhouse. A dramatic green on number 9 with a large gully protecting it requires a precise second shot.
Finishing out the first 9 holes I didn’t think the course could get much better. I was playing well, the hole layouts were fantastic and we were enjoying our group. Little did I know that the back 9 was just as impressive of a track and sets up to be a scorer’s delight if your driver is hot.
The back 9 starts with some longer par 4’s but more straightforward tee shots. If you have the ability to keep the ball in play off the tee, a short iron awaits as you set up for your approach.
The par 3 13th is one of my favorites on the course. A dramatic elevation change leaves you looking down into a tree- and bunker-protected green. It was a great view and fun to play. Check out the YouTube video at the end of this review for a flyover.
I have to mention number 14. It is a reachable par 4 that sets up for golfers looking for a risk and reward scenario. A perfect tee shot will leave you on the green putting for eagle or an easy chip. If your driver is not your friend, hit an iron off the tee and you will still have a wedge into the green. This hole starts a great run of three consecutive birdie opportunities, in my opinion.
Similar to Amen Corner at Augusta I will refer to 14, 15 and 16 at the Preserve as my birdie corner. Accurate tee shots set you up for wedge shots on 14 and 15 while 16 is a reachable par 5 with a good drive.
Finishing out your round with a par 3 and par 5, 17 and 18 make for great closing holes. 17 is a downhill par 3 with an accessible green that’s sloped in such a way that you must place your shot in the vicinity of the pin location.
The 18th is the longest par 5 on the course with water coming into play on the approach. It still affords you one last opportunity, however, for a birdie with a well-placed tee shot and accurate wood.
Taking the shuttle from the main Grand View Lodge property the course is about a 15-minute ride. Upon arriving you are greeted by friendly cart attendants and ushered into the log cabin style clubhouse. The pro shop is fully stocked along with the Pub right next door. One of the best features of the clubhouse is its expansive deck available for you to grab a quick bite or beer after the round and reminisce on the shots that could have been.
The Preserve also has a full driving range and practice area that is included as part of your greens fees. I found the practice areas to be quite nice and allowed for a comfortable warm-up before our round.
You may notice in some of the pictures that there are small sections of the greens and fairways that appear brown. This was due to some harsh Winter conditions causing some damage to the course. Most areas were well on their way to healing when we played in early June, and honestly it didn’t affect the play of the course except for on 2-3 greens.
We partnered up with some locals who assured us they had never seen the issue before but I wanted to make sure to mention it. The course was offering Spring rates to compensate for the conditions which I thought was more than fair. The overall condition of the course was great and we could tell it was maintained by a top-notch greens staff.
The Preserve is a true Northwoods gem. From the elevation changes, picturesque tee shots, and scoreable holes I would highly recommend this course for any level golfer. The greens rolled true and there were some interesting layouts for holes, as well. I feel you will walk away satisfied with a great golf experience and definitely want to come back again.
Take a look at the video below to get an overview of the course: